It was really all we needed: One previously obscure public official to stand up on his hind legs and say No, I will not surrender my integrity for your political agenda.
Brad Raffensperger is a lifelong Republican. An engineer and successful businessman, he served a few terms in the Georgia House and then ran for Secretary of State in 2018 and won. That was the year of Stacey Abrams’s unsuccessful bid for governor. She never conceded defeat, alleging that the vote was stolen. So Democrats were none too thrilled when Raffensperger continued his predecessor’s policy of cleaning up voter rolls. According to Georgia law, voters can be deregistered if they fail to vote in a seven-year period and do not respond to contact attempts. Raffensperger purged 300,000 voters, on top of the 670,000 Brian Kemp had removed. More recently, Raffensperger annoyed Republicans when, in response to the COVID-19 emergency, he agreed to send absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters before the June primary. He then set up an online system for requesting absentee ballots for the general election.
I have no idea if the purges were done correctly or not, but I’m inclined to give Raffensperger the benefit of the doubt because of what came next.
Georgia, which had not voted for a Democrat for president since 1992, went for Biden by a narrow margin. As he has done in pretty much every state he lost, Donald Trump screamed FRAUD! And, as in nearly every other state, there have been local Republicans ready to back him up. Rep. Doug Collins, who lost out to Sen. Kelly Loeffler in the jungle primary for one of the two U.S. Senate seats, was deputized to act as the Trump campaign’s local liar. Ever eager to accommodate, Collins responded to his new responsibilities not by promising to conduct a thorough review (he’s no cuck!), but by saying he was “confident” that the state would “find evidence of improperly harvested ballots and other irregularities.” He then hosted a “Stop the Steal” rally in Atlanta. “Sentence first, verdict afterwards,” said the Red Queen.
Collins was joined in the farrago of falsehood by Georgia’s two senatorial candidates, Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue, whom the White House reportedly instructed to call for Raffensperger’s resignation. The White House said “jump” and they asked “how high?” The two senators issued a statement the following day. Without citing any evidence, they declared that “The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. He has failed the people of Georgia, and he should step down immediately.”
But Raffensperger did not play his assigned role. According to the pattern established during the past four years, he was supposed to mumble his loyalty to the president, and suggest that yes indeed, the whole election might have been tainted, who can say?
Instead, he showed something that hasn’t been seen in Republican precincts for some time—self-respect. He issued the following statement:
My job is to follow Georgia law and see to it that all legal votes—and no illegal votes—are counted properly and accurately. As secretary of state, that is my duty, and I will continue to do my duty. As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Sens. Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.
Responding to a string of falsehoods from Collins, Raffensperger was even more caustic. “Doug Collins is… doing bald-faced lying… We’re basically fact-bombing them.” He also called him a charlatan. No, there was no ballot harvesting. The signature matching effort had been strengthened, not weakened. No, the Dominion voting machines are not made in Venezuela, and no, they didn’t make Trump votes disappear. Would they track back absentee ballot envelopes to individual voters? “Our office has received multiple requests to match ballots back to voters—exposing how a Georgia voter has voted.” Raffensperger posted on Facebook. “We stand ready to prevent any and all attempts from any party to intimidate voters. Georgia voters have a right to vote in secret without intimidation from any political candidate or party.”
That’s when the death threats began. “You better not botch this,” read one. “Your life depends on it.”
But the bullies picked the wrong guy to cross. Sure, he was upset. “Other than getting you angry, it’s also very disillusioning,” Raffensperger said, “particularly when it comes from people on my side of the aisle. Everyone that is working on this needs to elevate their speech. We need to be thoughtful and careful about what we say.”
Raffensperger was also just angry enough to let fly at one more prominent Republican—Sen. Lindsey Graham. The newly-reelected senior senator from South Carolina phoned the Georgia secretary of state. Why? To get better insight into how the hand-recount is proceeding? To inquire about what caused the hiccup in Floyd County, where 2600 votes were accidentally missed in the first count? No. Raffensperger told the Washington Post that Graham repeated Trump’s unfounded claims about vote fraud. He then probed about the signature-matching law. Raffensperger presumably told Graham what he told a local TV station:
When you make a paper application and send it in, the signature is matched. And then when you send your ballot in, it’s matched again. And now for the first time ever, we’ve brought photo ID to the absentee ballot process with our online portal.
Then Graham came to the point: Could Raffensperger see his way clear to tossing all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of non-matching signatures? While Raffensperger was spitting out his coffee, Trump was tweeting: “Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state.”
Everyone knows that major portions of the Republican party abased themselves before an incompetent narcissist who is discrediting the democratic process as his parting shot. But not every Republican. Brad Raffensperger is a reminder that there are Republicans and Americans who do what is right for its own sake, even under stress, even when it will cost them, and even when the only reward they can expect is being able to look in the mirror without flinching.